As members of the upper middle class, and having been married for fourteen years, Nader (Peiman Ma'adi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) are on the verge of separation on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. The opening scene is an incredible single take as the couple plead the reasoning behind their divorce request to a judge presiding off camera. With the troubling social conditions prevailing, they have both acquired visas to emigrate from Iran.
Simin is anxious to ensure a better future for their bright ten-year-old daughter Termeh, but Nader refuses to leave his elderly father, who lives with the family and suffers from Alzheimer's Disease. With Nader firmly against leaving Iran, Simin files for a divorce, but the judge refuses to formalise their separation. Even from this opening scene you are certain that there will be powerful and gripping performances and emotionally resonating drama to follow. Heightened tension is built entirely through the dialogic exchanges between these wonderful actors.
Simin departs the family home to stay with her mother, and leaves the stubborn Nader to contract the services of a housekeeper. Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a deeply religious and impoverished woman with a volatile, depressed and out-of-work husband, is assigned by Simin. Razieh has accepted this work without the approval of Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini), which is necessary according to tradition. She brings her four-year-old daughter with her to Nader's apartment where she tends to household duties and tries to take care of Nader's father. As we are intricately revealed over the period of a couple of days, Razieh struggles to take care of the sick old man and is visibly labouring from the strenuous commute to the job and the stress it causes her.
Nader returns home one day with his daughter to find the door locked, his father alone and tied to the bed, and money missing. Fearing that his father is dead, Nader returns him to consciousness, but is full of rage when Razieh is insufficiently able to explain why she had left, the reason for her negligence towards his father's health, and the missing money. Nader's fury, which involves throwing Razieh out of the apartment, leads to unexpected and devastating consequences for both families. Nader faces a murder charge from Razieh and Hodjat, who claim that he was responsible for the death of their unborn child.
Firstly, A Separation has a mechanically perfect screenplay. Infused with a subtle distinction between cause and effect, Farhadi is committed to building this world and allowing us to find comfort, before presenting us one shocking revelation after another. We at first feel sympathetic towards Razieh because of her burden of looking after Nader's father. We believe briefly that she may be a thief, only to be jolted into a state of sorrow at the news of the loss of her child. While we feel terrible about that, we know, from what has transpired, that it is not Nader's fault either. It's a roller coaster of emotions and an extraordinary examination of an individual's struggle with personal ethics and loyalty in opposition to telling the truth and accepting responsibility. The outstanding performances lead us through a number of intense, heated and volatile exchanges that question the truth, faith, honour, class and fault.
A Separation is an indictment of the Iranian justice system from a director who clearly has strong opinions on the matter. But there is also some very serious class divisions and religious discrimination prevalent in this society. The film juggles all of these conflicts as these two families try and find peace after these devastating consequences. The system is horrendous, with evidence to be brought before a single judge, with the individuals or parties involved instructed to relay their case. If their story is disputed by their accusers (standing next to them in a small room), they are asked to find a witness to correlate their testimony. There is every possibility that witnesses can unite and collaborate stories, and be persuaded by threats. It is what causes this cyclical struggle, and the indefinite possibility that Nader will be found responsible. Destined to be a classic of Iranian cinema, A Separation is a knockout and should be at the top of your 'must see' list.
My Rating: 5 Stars (A)